It's a commonly held belief that the Minnesota Vikings' biggest need is a quarterback. And that might be true — that might be the one position that's most in need of settling.
But the team's defense is the bigger, deeper, less easily fixable worry in the long term. Thursday's 34-27 victory over the Washington Redskins actually featured a defensive uprising late, as it held the Redskins to three second-half points after a miserable first half and managed to forge a red-zone stand in the waning seconds to preserve the victory.
The mode: almost wanton blitzing against a Redskins front that was under assault. Under the circumstances, it was the right move. The Vikings had beaten up Robert Griffin III in the first half with a number of hits, and those hits started materializing in the form of sacks — four in the second half — once the pressure was ratcheted up a few notches with extra rushers.
But it was a desperation approach in this game for a team that has several defensive ills. Granted, health is a big issue now — they were down four starters for this game. But those temporary losses underscore the defensive rebuilding that's needed for the long term.
Witness the shoddy tackling on this Pierre Garcon catch-and-run in the first half. On a third-and-15 play, Garcon catches the ball one yard from the line of scrimmage and slices his way through a pudding-soft defense for 30 yards to convert.
Earlier on, Garcon had another short catch he turned into a long play because of shoddy tackling and bad angles to the ball.
And on the Redskins' end-of-half score, Griffin had all kinds of time to throw on a third-down play where — inexplicably — most of the Vikings were looking for the run, and not the pass. A run play with 15 seconds left almost certainly leaves no time for the Redskins to run a fourth-down play with any hope. That's coaching, and that's defensive awareness. Both were sorely lacking here.
These are chronic issues that can't be fixed with a single player being added, and that's the biggest difference between solving their quarterback issues. The right quarterback could change everything. Imagine Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater running a great play-action offense with Adrian Peterson, or Oregon's Marcus Mariota running the read-option with the ball in Peterson's belly a dozen times a game. One guy there can change everything.
But defensively, you have issues on every level. Even with Kevin Williams' turn-back-the-clock game (2.5 sacks) and Jared Allen continuing to fill stat sheets, the line is missing at least two rotational players. The linebackers might be the biggest area of concern, with even mainstay Chad Greenway looking quite ordinary, and the other starters not playing to starter-grade levels. The secondary is ravaged by injury, but many of its constituents can be replaced, too.
It's nice that for a team that was called out for conservative play-calling defensively at the ends of previous games this season, we instead saw a real change of stripes Thursday. If the Vikings were going to go down, they were going to do so swinging, with a cadre of blitzes on the final four drives that mostly worked.
But that's a fix for the now. In order to improve this team going forward, it must tackle better, see the ball better, show stronger awareness in situational football and make more game-changing plays early in ballgames. It won't come with a flip of a switch, either.
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